Bordeaux-based writer Jane Anson reports.
Consumer custom wine-making outfit Crushpad, after five years in San Francisco, is this week opening a base in Bordeaux, using the same business model of offering wine enthusiasts the chance to make their own individual barrels of wine.
Although in San Francisco, 90% of the 5,000 clients are from the US, they don't see this pattern being repeated with the Bordeaux outfit. 'We are not establishing here for a purely French market, but expect interest from around the world,' said Stephen Bolger, president of Crushpad's French operations. 'Our first clients in Bordeaux include a Finn who makes wine in San Francisco and an Estonian who lives in London, and we are opening in response to demand from our existing client base in the US and Japan. We see it eventually being evenly split between the US, Asia and Europe.'
The fruit (with a choice of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) will be sourced from a small number of partner vineyards, including Philippe Raoux's Château d'Arsac in Margaux, Philippe Emile's Le Ruisseau in Côtes de Castillon and Jonathan Maltus' Grand Pontet in St-Émilion. Winemaking will take place at the Maltus winery at Château Teyssier (pictured in winter), and oenologists Eric Boissenot and Stéphane Derenoncourt have agreed to come on board as consultants. The resulting wines will be bottled AOC Bordeaux or in some specific cases AOC St-Émilion.
'It's a tough market for luxury goods right now,' said Maltus, 'but working from Château Teyssier allows Crushpad to test the market slowly, keep costs down, and to be flexible with volumes. And we are used to making small batch wines – our 10 labels range from 250 cases for Clos Nardian to 15,000 cases for Teyssier.'
Marketing for Crushpad Bordeaux will be via word of mouth, just as it has been in the US. The company managed close to US$9million in sales in 2008, but only one sales person. And as with the original outfit, clients will have the opportunity to get as involved as they would like with the process – helping with grape selection, picking, punching down, vinification and label design either in person, or at a distance via the internet. 'So many wine enthusiasts dream of owning their own vineyard', said Bolger. 'Our clients can live that dream at a fraction of the cost. And it may sound counter-intuitive, but during a downturn there is a lot more receptivity to new ideas from growers and others in the wine industry.'
Clients will be able to make their first barrels of Bordeaux wine from the 2009 vintage, with prices ranging upwards from €22.50 a bottle, or €6,750 per barrel.